Monday, February 9, 2015

Ramen Noodles in Five Spice Oxtail Broth with Cloud Ear Mushrooms, Wakame and Green Tabasco Peppers

     Gourmet Ramen Noodles To The Rescue!
     The post holiday season bill paying blues really have a way of getting people down.  Spending and maxing out credit cards feels plenty good during the gift giving season, but after the euphoria fades away, reality sets in.  After the holidays, dining styles often are shaped around a good old cheap "beans & rice budget."   
      Dining cheap at home to save money after the holiday season means resorting to cooking the same food that helped to get through poor economic times in the past.  During the last 25 years, ramen noodles have surpassed rice & beans as the number one low budget food.  College students always run short on money and ramen noodles are now often referred to as college student survival food.  
     Plain ramen noodles in broth is as basic as it gets and most ramen noodle heads are not satisfied with eating a bowl of plain noodles.  Everybody has their own favorite way of jazzing up ramen noodles on the cheap.  Hot sauce, frozen vegetables, canned tuna, hot dogs, tomato sauce, cheese and leftovers from a previous meal are mainstream items that are added to ramen noodles to create a low budget meal.  
     Those who dare to stray from the middle of the road know that there are other options that can really stretch the dining dollar to the max.  Asian markets stock tons of great dried food.  Before the age of refrigeration, many communities in Central Asia depended upon dried food.  Dried mushrooms, dried seafood, dried seaweed, dried fruit and common dried vegetables were once used more often in home cooked Central Asian meals than fresh items.  
     Dried food is prepared in bulk, it is light, it has a low shipping cost and it is marketed at a lower price than perishable fresh food.  Traditional dried food items present value.  Incorporating dried food into meals can stretch the dining dollar.
     From a nutritional standpoint, there are two dried food items that present the most bang for the buck.  Seaweed and Cloud Ear Mushrooms!  Seaweed is loaded with complex proteins, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Wakame Seaweed is one of the best tasting seaweed varietals.  
     Dried Wakame is good, but Salt Packed Wakame is even better.  Salt Packed Wakame is dehydrated, but it is basically still alive and fresh.  
     Reconstituting a few strands of Salt Packed Wakame in water, results in magical amazement!  A foot long strand of Salt Packed Wakame reconstitutes to full size fresh looking seaweed that is nearly six feet long!  
     I reconstituted some Salt Packed Wakame at chef school one day, when Sushi and Korean Banchan were the lessons being taught in a classroom.  I soaked the Wakame while the teacher and students were barely paying attention.  
     After about 15 minutes, I pulled the soaked six foot long piece wakame out of the water bowl, held in the air to show off the length and said "Just like magic!"  The teacher and students turned around to look.  The students were clueless and they had a puzzled look on their face.  
     The teacher said "Where did that fresh seaweed come from?  Somebody should have told me that we had fresh wakame delivered!"  The teacher tried to keep a straight face, because he knew what I did and he saw the puzzled reaction of the students.  He just smiled, shook his head and turned around to laugh quietly to himself!     

     Cloud Ear Mushrooms are also called Jelly Fungus, Wood Ear Mushrooms, Cow's Ear Fungus and Meat.  Meat?  A high percentage of people in Asia are vegetarian and vegetarians commonly refer to mushrooms as meat, especially wood ear mushrooms.  
     Dried Cloud Ear Mushrooms are very small and light weight.  After they are soaked, they become fairly large in size with a firm rubbery tough mushroom texture.  
     Everybody knows that mushrooms have a high nutritional value and one portion can supply daily protein requirements.  Many mushrooms also have healthy properties of their own.  Cloud Ear Mushrooms offer medicinal value that helps to prevent many illnesses and they actually slow down the aging process.  

     Oxtail broth is something that must be made from scratch.  When making something like a traditional Hawaiian or Filipino oxtail soup, there usually is some leftover broth.  Today's gourmet ramen noodle recipe made use of some extra Hawaiian style oxtail soup broth.  
     Oxtails are actually beef tails.  There is a large amount of cartilaginous tissue in oxtail that creates a nutritious broth that is much richer than a standard beef broth.  The cartilaginous compounds in oxtail broth promote stronger heart valves and connective tissue in the human body.   

     Food is medicine, but looking at a bowl of food like it is a medicine cabinet is not wise.  It is better to mentally keep a running tab on nutritional requirements and creating great flavors.  Food that has medicinal value is not worth dwelling over.  Just eat the good tasting food and the body will let the mind know that it feels great as a result.  
     The subconscious self preservation guidance system of the body logs the memory of food that makes the body feel healthy and when the same food is needed by the body in the future, cravings arise.  Being in tune with one's own cravings is as simple as feeling a craving and remembering a meal that was eaten in the past that satisfied that craving.  
     For example, "I am craving something and for some reason, I vaguely remember the time that I ate wakame and cloud ear mushrooms in some kind of a ramen noodle creation.  Maybe my cravings are telling me to eat something like that again."  
     Coincidence?  No!  Those who are in tune with cravings will cook good healthy food that provides what the body needs.  Cravings are essentially signals of some kind need.  
     Those who are out of tune with their own cravings will simply say, "I am hungry, and I remember some kind of weird food that I ate a few years agou, but a burger, a sugary soft drink and a bag of cheese puffs sure sounds good right now!"  Ce est la vie!   

     This entire recipe yields 1 serving!

     Cloud Ear Mushrooms:
     Soak about 5 cloud ear mushrooms (wood ear mushrooms) in water overnight in a refrigerator.
     Drain the water off of the mushrooms.
     Cut the mushrooms into thin strips.
     Chill the mushrooms till they are needed.

     Salt Packed Wakame:
     Rinse a 6" to 8" length of semi dry salt packed wakame under cold running water.
     Soak the wakame in a bowl of water.  
     Allow the wakame to reconstitute to its full size.
     Cut the wakame into large bite size pieces.
     Chill the wakame till it is needed.
     Oxtail Broth:
     This actually is the Old Fashioned Hawaiian Oxtail Soup Recipe from my Comfort Food Website.  This recipe yields so extra broth, which can be used to make today's ramen noodle recipe.     
     This recipe yields 1 large serving of soup! 
     The larger the oxtail pieces, the larger the bones.  Smaller oxtail pieces work best, but large oxtail pieces look impressive in a bowl.  
     Step 1:  Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.
     Add 7 to 9 ounces of oxtail pieces.  (A large oxtail piece may actually only have 4 ounces of meat on the bone.  About 2 to 5 small to medium size oxtail pieces is plenty.)
     Sauté the oxtail pieces, till they become darkly browned on all sides.  Smaller pieces will cook faster, so remove them from the pot, till the larger pieces finish.)
     Step 2:  Remove the oxtail pieces from the pot and set them aside.
     Drain the excess grease out of the pot.
     Step 3:  Return the pot to medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 cups of water.
     Whisk the brown fond (suc) that is stuck on the bottom of the pan to deglaze the pan.
     Step 4:  Add 1 tablespoon of palm sugar.
     Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
     Add 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped onion.
     Add 2 crushed garlic cloves.
     Add 2 teaspoons of minced ginger.
     Add 1 tablespoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar.
     Return the oxtails to the pot.
     Step 5:  Simmer and reduce the liquid, till a syrup glaze forms.  Flip the oxtails in the liquid as it reduces, so they become thoroughly marinated and glazed.  (This step adds a lot of flavor to the oxtail!) 
     Step 6:  Add enough water to cover the browned oxtail pieces with 3" of extra liquid.  (about 6 or 7 cups)
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer the soup, till the oxtail meat is ready to start falling off of the bones.  Remove each oxtail piece from the soup as it finishes and set it aside.  (Smaller pieces will become tender faster than large pieces.)
     Step 8:  After the tender oxtail pieces are removed and only the broth remains in the pot, raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce the broth, till only about 3 1/4 cups of broth remain.
     Return the oxtail pieces to the broth.
     Return the broth to a gentle boil to heat the oxtail pieces.
     Step 9:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat and keep the soup warm.  

     Five Spice Oxtail Broth with Cloud Ear Mushrooms and Wakame:
     Place 1 1/4 cups of rich oxtail soup broth in a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 pinches Chinese five spice powder.
     Add the reserved cloud ear mushrooms.
     Add the reserved wakame.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Keep the broth warm over very low heat.  
     Ramen Noodles: 
     Shocking ramen noodles is a traditional method for creating a chewy texture.  
     Boil a pot of water over high heat.
     Add 1 portion of ramen noodles.
     Stir the noodles occasionally, till they become fully cooked.
     Drain the hot water off of the noodles.
     Place the noodles in a bowl of ice water.
     Stir the noodles by hand, till they feel like they have a firm chewy texture.
     Drain the ice water off of the noodles.
     Set the noodles aside.

     Ramen Noodles, Fried Ikan Bilis and Wakame en Black Vinegar Red Sauce:
     Keep a pot of water boiling over high heat, so the noodles can be reheated.
     Place the portion of prepared ramen noodles in a noodle net and dip them in the hot water, till they become piping hot.
     Mound the noodles in a shallow soup bowl.
     Ladle the Five Spice Oxtail Broth with Cloud Ear Mushrooms and Wakame over the noodles.
     Place bite size green onion pieces on the broth around the noodles.
     Place 3 pickled green tabasco peppers on top of the noodles.
     Garnish the green tabasco peppers with thin roasted red bell pepper strips.
     Garnish the roasted red bell pepper with a small curly leaf parsley sprig.  

     Savory, healthy and appealing to the eye!  When making a bowl of gourmet ramen noodles, presenting the entree so it looks nice adds to the dining experience. 

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